SEOUL – South Korean retail giant Lotte agreed Monday to provide land to host a controversial US missile defence system loathed by Beijing, Seoul’s defence ministry said.
Food- and retail-focussed Lotte Group, South Korea’s fifth-biggest company, has come under growing pressure over the deal from China, a crucial market.
The plan by Washington and Seoul to install the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in response to threats from nuclear-armed North Korea has angered Beijing, which fears it will undermine its own ballistic capabilities.
Chinese authorities forced Lotte to suspend a $2.6 billion theme park construction project, and other South Korean businesses have faced tougher regulatory hurdles from Beijing.
But the Lotte board voted to exchange one of its golf courses, in the southern county of Seongju for a parcel of military-owned land near Seoul, the South’s defence ministry said.
“We received a message that the board approved the exchange of land for THAAD deployment,” it said in a statement, without providing further details.
A Lotte Group spokeswoman declined to comment on the board decision, adding that the defence ministry was handling the matter.
Ahead of the announcement shares in Lotte Shopping closed down 3.32 percent on anticipation the board would approve the transaction.
Beijing has in recent months slapped a series of measures seen by Seoul as economic retaliation over THAAD, including the cancellation of visits by many South Korean celebrities popular in China.
Many South Korean firms have suffered falling sales in China — the South’s top trading partner — due to tightened Customs screening of imports from Seoul, while Chinese tourist numbers reportedly have fallen.
In Beijing foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters that THAAD “severely disrupts regional strategic balance and jeopardises the strategic security interests of regional countries including China”.
Beijing “will definitely take necessary measures to safeguard its security interests”, he told a regular briefing, adding: “All the consequences entailed will be borne by the US and the Republic of Korea”, the South’s official name.
Last year the impoverished but nuclear-armed North staged two atomic tests and a number of missile launches.
The most recent missile test on February 12 — the first since US President Donald Trump took office — showed some signs of progress in its missile capabilities, according to South Korean military.